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In Bruges Ending Explained: A Movie Analysis

in bruges ending Ken Ray

As fans of In Bruges know, the movie culminates in a dramatic shootout that resolves the tension between the three main characters in a tragic fashion.  But what does the In Bruges ending really mean? 

Read on as I delve into the nuances of In Bruges’ ending whilst dissecting the character motivations and themes that make it such a memorable and thought-provoking movie.

The setup: themes of guilt and redemption

Before fully appreciating In Bruges’s ending, it’s important to establish the movie’s thematic realm. 

Ray and Ken are two hitmen from London who are sent to Bruges, Belgium, by their boss Harry to hide out after a botched job.

While in Bruges, they encounter a range of quirky and colourful characters, from a dwarf actor to a pregnant innkeeper to a drug-dealing skinhead.

Amidst the sightseeing and soul-searching, Ray reveals that he accidentally killed a young boy during their last job, triggering a profound sense of guilt and self-loathing.

McDonagh subtly creates a sense that the two characters are in purgatory as they await judgment from their faceless boss, Harry.

Harry is initially portrayed like a higher deity in that he is referred to and not shown on screen. This creates a transcendental presence that’s only heightened by the fact he is the reason for them being in Bruges.

in Bruges Ending Ken Ray looking

The twist: a revelation that changes everything

The movie’s idyllic setting and introspective tone are suddenly shattered when Harry orders that Ken must kill Ray as a means of punishment for his actions. 

Just as he’s about to execute Harry’s demand, Ken realises that Ray is about to take his own life and unexpectedly intervenes to prevent his friend from dying.

Ken confesses his inaction to Harry, who decides to take matters into his own hands and sets off for Bruges. Harry’s arrival sets off a chain reaction of events that leads to the downfall of each three men.

After a dispute with Harry about Ray’s fate, Ken performs a Christ-like gesture. He sacrifices his own life by throwing himself off the bell tower in the town centre, in an effort to warn Ray of Harry’s presence.

This is where character, theme, plot, and the story world unite in perfect symbolic fashion, as Ken chooses to die in front of the church bell tower to offer his friend redemption and deliver him from evil.

In Bruges ending bell tower Ken and Harry

In Bruges ending: a tragic and cathartic climax

After Ken’s death, Ray is chased onto a film set by Harry, who quenches his thirst for vengeance and redemption by shooting Ray in the back. 

At this point, McDonagh shows his masterful grasp of dark, comedic irony as the bullet passes through Ray’s body, killing the dwarf actor from earlier in the story. 

Harry mistakenly thinks that he’s killed a young boy, just as Ray did and makes an instantaneous decision to shoot himself in an effort to adhere to his fervent principles. 

The meaning: a complex and ambiguous message

So what does the ending of In Bruges tell us about guilt, redemption, and the human condition? 

On one level, we can see it as a cautionary tale about the dangers of revenge, rigid principles, and the cyclical nature of violence. 

Harry’s desire for vengeance leads to a tragic escalation of conflict that ends up destroying all three men.

On another level, we can focus on Ray’s heroic action to draw messages of forgiveness, grace and redemption through a different lens. 

Whilst Harry believes that only death will redeem Ray, Ken believes that only life will redeem him.

The ending, then, can be seen as a tragic irony, where redemption is exercised across a binary thematic spectrum.

The verdict: a masterpiece of storytelling and filmmaking

Overall, In Bruges is a masterpiece of storytelling and filmmaking that combines elements of black comedy, crime and thriller. 

For a deeper dive into the In Bruges ending, and its relationship between character and theme, click the button below to watch my video essay on the screenplay. 

single line drawing projector
Nick Fore Script Doctor / Script Consultant

Nick Fore is an experienced script consultant who reads screenplays for the British Film Institute.

He has written comprehensive coverage on over 1,000 scripts and has helped screenwriters get their work into development with production companies such as Imagine Entertainment and Screen Ireland. 

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